2015 Grantee Partners
 

Women’s Fund Grant to The Children’s Home Helps Homeless Pregnant and Parenting Teens Gain Self-Sufficiency and Become Responsible Mothers

Camisha and Marcia have two very distinct stories, but the young ladies are also alike in many ways. Both are tenacious and resilient. Each has been pregnant and homeless in her teen years. And both have found stability and support for themselves and their toddlers through a residential program called My Aunt’s House.

From a cozy brick building on the The Children’s Home campus, My Aunt’s House is designed to empower homeless pregnant or parenting teens such as Camisha and Marcia. By furnishing basic necessities, adult supervision and support services, the program helps the teens transition to independence and learn good parenting.

Not long ago, Camisha Gray was a busy 18-year-old, working two jobs and taking classes at Forsyth Tech. Then she discovered she was pregnant. Four months into the pregnancy, she was assigned to bed rest. Not able to work, Camisha moved in with the father of her child. That arrangement fizzled, leaving the young girl feeling desperate and lost.

Thankfully, Camisha found My Aunt’s House. After her son Khalil was born, she and the infant began a new life together there. The going was rough at first, but Camisha persevered. She recently finished the 18-month program and moved into an on-campus apartment with Khalil. She has a part-time job and is completing studies in cosmetology.

Marcia Evans (not her real name), 15, arrived at My Aunt’s House months ago with her then 13-month-old daughter, Isabella (not her real name). They’d transferred from an out-of-town residence. Marcia, whose mother is a substance abuser, had been in and out of Forsyth County Department of Social Services custody since she was 13 years old. She had no local family support system.

In time, mother and daughter settled in to life at My Aunt’s House. They’ve since exceeded all expectations. Marcia is an honors student at Reynolds High School and plans to attend college to become a physician’s assistant; Isabella is a bright two-year-old with a highly developed vocabulary.

Since its creation three years ago, My Aunt’s House has provided empowerment to 38 other teens and paved the way to success for mothers and babies. In 2010, the Women’s Fund awarded The Children’s Home a grant of $14,850 to provide classes and counseling on life skills to teens in the program. For Camisha and Marcia, such services have been invaluable.

“I learned everything, like how to change a diaper, and time management skills,” Camisha said. “The staff was always there for me. They counseled me and gave me advice on self-esteem, schools, relationships. I learned how to keep a schedule and how to budget my money. I learned how to ride the bus.”

Teens at My Aunt’s House are required to pursue a high-school diploma or GED, or otherwise prepare for the work world. All participants have access to a licensed child development center that operates in the basement of My Aunt’s House.

“My Aunt’s House is one of the few places in our area that offers pregnant teens both housing and support services,” said Katisha Blackwell, the director of My Aunt’s House. “Education, child care and transportation are the main barriers that the girls face as they begin the program. We address all those issues.”

My Aunt’s House also provides external services. Wake Forest University medical students visit the campus and present workshops on relationships and STDs. Mothers receive additional services and parenting education from Catholic Social Services’ Hand-to-Hand program. Teens enjoy regular art classes and diversions such as zumba classes.

In October, Camisha “graduated” from the program and she and Khalil moved to one of two transitional apartments on the ground floor of My Aunt’s House. Camisha continues to work part-time and pursue a career in cosmetology.

“I couldn’t possibly have accomplished as much as I did without My Aunt’s House,” Camisha said gratefully.

Marcia and Isabella, too, are thriving.

“I’m so thankful we found My Aunt’s House,” Marcia said. “We are happier here than we were at the other residence. We have much more support and many more services.”

Despite these success stories, teen pregnancy continues to be a concern in Forsyth County. Blackwell said that in 2009, the county had 808 teen pregnancies. Every day, two teenage girls between the ages of 10 and 19 become pregnant, according to the Forsyth County Department of Health. These alarming statistics came to the attention of the Forsyth Adolescent Health Coalition, a teen advocacy group, which in 2008 collaborated with The Children’s Home to establish My Aunt’s House.

And My Aunt’s House has proven its worth — most importantly because each participating teen comes to learn that she and her child are safe, supported and encouraged every step of the way.

“In order to be successful in the program, young women have to be committed to their own success and to the program,” Blackwell said. “Most come in with a good attitude and understand why it’s important to finish school and go through the program. When they tell us ‘I just want to take care of my baby,’ they realize that My Aunt’s House is their key to doing that — and so much more.”

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